“Okay guys, gather around. Wasn’t last night great? Where else can you see Elvis and Sinatra do karaoke I Got You Babe? Sometimes I get the feeling Frank thinks he’s running things up here, too. And then Jackie Gleason and Marilyn Monroe steal the show with that improv skit where two drunks go bowling. Is there any doubt this isn’t Iowa? We have some incredible talent, don’t we? I haven’t laughed that hard since J. Edgar told me he heard from one of his peeps at the pen in North Carolina that Bernie Madoff is telling people he’ll be headed up here soon. Bernie, when that territory down south freezes over, give us a call.
This is a big week for you gentlemen. In fact it’s a big week for all of us. Baseball season opens. Every year hope springs eternal. That’s literal up here. Flowers that died years ago once again come back to life and when the first spectator yells ‘kill the ump’, well, that’s already been done. It always gets a good laugh.
This year we get to officially retire the class of 1920. After competing for a century, they finally get to slow down. We’ll ship them over to the softball complex so they can take it easy. Those 1920s are a determined, scrappy group of fellas led by Ray Chapman who died that season after getting hit by a pitch in the head. Once he got here, he never shied away from another pitch. What was he going to do, get killed again?
You boys get to replace them in the 100-team league. You’ll be the 2020s and by the looks of things, you’ve got one terrific team. Certainly good enough to compete in this league, where nobody gets any older or younger than the age they checked in.
I asked Jim Frey, John McNamara and Billy DeMars to coach you chaps. Jim joined us last April, Johnny Mac in July and Billy just under the wire in December. They give you plenty of experience on your staff. Frey took the Royals to the World Series in ‘80 before losing to the Phillies. Billy was a coach on that Phillies team. Billy coached 19 years in the bigs before finally heading up here at age 95. There’s not much in the game he hasn’t seen. And of course McNamara got Buckner’d right out of a championship in ‘86. Security tells me Johnny wakes up in the middle of the night yelling ‘Buckner!’ Time to let it go, Johnny Mac.
Your coaches say you have the best pitching staff ever sent up. We are going with nine pitchers on the roster. When the season begins on Thursday, we can give the ball to Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson or Don ‘Mr. Perfect’ Larsen. Or, maybe they’ll want to have some laughs and use Phil Niekro. A lot of guys in this league have never seen anything like the junk he throws. Reminds some of the old timers of Hoyt Wilhelm who is with the ‘02s. Niekro’s stuff, or lack of, will probably get more laughs than the monologue Johnny Carson did for us last week—Carnac always kills unless you are dead already. We’ll keep Lindy McDaniel and Ron Perranoski in the pen. Johnny Antonelli, a six-time All-Star in the 1950s, will stick as a lefty. Also, Ed Farmer stays. He’s a gamer. Pitched for nine teams in 12 years and then spent 30 years in the White Sox radio booth. When games get slow, he can spin yarns in your bullpen.
The rest of the 25-player roster was a lot tougher to select. DeMars, Frey and Mac requested we keep Dick Allen, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Bob Oliver, Hal Smith, Tony Taylor, Claudell Washington, Jimmy Wynn, Horace Clarke, Tony Fernandez, Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Eddie Kasko and for rainy day entertainment, Phil Linz. I know Yankee fans love to blame all their late 1960s and early 1970s woes on Horace, but DeMars thinks he can play a solid second base if Bronx hecklers stay away. Hal Smith will be your catcher. No, not the Hal Smith who played Otis Campbell the Mayberry town drunk and got here in 1994, but the Hal Smith who got here last January and was a catcher for the 1960 Pirates. He would have been the hero of the 1960 World Series with a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth if Elroy Face and Bob Friend could have held the lead in the ninth. Smith likes to remind anyone who will listen had that happened, nobody would have ever heard of Bill Mazeroski. The final spot on the team goes to outfielder Angel Echevarria for obvious reasons. Truly you have an angel in the outfield with Echie.
Bob Watson, you are good enough to be the ‘20s first baseman but for now we’ll go with Richie, I mean Dick, Allen and Bob Oliver. Yes Mr. Watson, you won a World Championship with the Yankees in 1976 even if George took all the credit. You’ll be the GM of this team. I expect you’ll move guys in and out. We don’t like to say up and down here. Some talented players are not sitting in this room today but hoping to get in: Glenn Beckett, Frank Bolling, Damaso Garcia, Jim Hicks, Dennis Menke and Ed Sprague. All had good training camps. Just remember Bob, I call the shots.
For you former Yankees who made this team— Whitey, Mr. Perfect, Lindy, Horace, Tony Fernandez, Claudell, Toy Cannon and tooting Phil— you’ll see Mr. Steinbrenner at some of your games but no longer need to fear him. I’ve taken care of that. In fact, he has been rehabbed. He knows there’s only one Boss up here and it ain’t him. George is now a lecturer and professor over at the Emily Post College of Decorum. We are really proud of the resident he’s become. And Whitey, I know you were the chairman of some board downstairs but no shenanigans up here, please. There’s only one Chairman. You are a non-voting shareholder now.
Is that Lasorda peeking around the corner? I’d recognize that gut anywhere. Excuse me fellas for a minute.
Tommy, I’m telling you for the last time; you are not eligible for this season. You came up here in January and I explained the rules to you. Six times. You can hit the field again next year. You sit out this season. You are welcome to go to as many games as you want. As a spectator. You don’t look like you missed many buffets before you got here, so keep your face stuffed with celestial pizza and meatball hoagies at Paradise Park. Keep your mouth shut except when you’re eating, which looks to be often. Nobody likes bench jockeying. You will manage the ‘21s next season. But you have to follow my rules first. That seems to be very hard for you. This isn’t Bowie Kuhn you’re dealing with. You’ve got a great club shaping up. Don’t blow your chance to manage again. We are only three months into the year and already we have Hank Aaron, Don Sutton, Billy Conigliaro, Grant Jackson, Juan Pizzaro, Norm Sherry and Stan Williams.
On Thursday we got word that Dr. Bobby Brown is on the way at age 96. We don’t have much need for a cardiologist here but could always use a hard hitting third baseman who hit .439 in four World Series with the Yankees.
Frankly, I thought we’d see Eddie Robinson here before Dr. Brown. Eddie, the oldest living ex-ballplayer, celebrated his 100th birthday this past December. Good for Eddie! We are holding a special place for him. Anyone who was a four-time All-Star, but more importantly was on the 1948 World Series champion Indians, something no one has said ever since, has a spot on our team. Take your time Eddie.
There’s still eight months left to build a complete roster, Tommy. More players will be arriving. Do us both a favor and get away from this meeting. In fact, get out of my sight for a while. Go pick daisies. I’m not telling you again. You’re becoming a devil—those don’t play too well in these parts. It’s bad enough Casey hangs around everyday complaining. Stengel is managing the ‘75s. He’s got a lousy team and doesn’t stop bellyaching about it. He has Nellie Fox, Joe Medwick and Lefty Grove and that’s about it unless you include Sig Brooksie, Rollin Cook, Astyanax Douglas and Scat Metha. His closer behind Lefty is Sugar Cain, who pitched in the 1920s and 30s and threw about that speed. I’d have thought anyone who managed Choo Choo Coleman, Gus Bell, Sherm Jones, Hobie Landrith, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Marvelous Marv Throneberry on the 1962 Mets would be thrilled with Brooksie, Metha and Cain, but not Casey. He’s lobbying me to allow trades, but the deal is the class you come up here with is the class you stay with. He will be a ‘75 forever. Tommy, get him calmed down and the strombolli is on Me.
Okay Team ‘20, I’m back. Sorry for the interruption. I want to introduce a couple of faces in the room you might not recognize without a mask: Derryl Cousins and Rick Reed. Both World Series caliber umpires. Ejected from below last year. Cousins will be assigned to the Augie Donatelli crew; Reed to Nestor Chylak. Take it easy on them. Remember, the final decision on every call ultimately belongs to me.
You guys have seven Hall of Famers in your class: Neikro, Ford, Morgan, Seaver, Kaline, Gibson and Brock. It’s the most we’ve ever had in one year. Overall, 110 MLB alums were sent up in 2020. Your dying class was the second largest ever just behind the 1969 class which brought us 142 players. Most of them had heart attacks after the Mets won the World Series.
Beware, boys. None of the other 99 teams are ready to hand you the Sky Series trophy. You’ll need to figure out a way to earn it. Last year’s rookie team, the ‘19s, had a great season with Frank Robinson, Mel Stottlemeyer, Don Newcomb, little Al Jackson, Jackie Hernandez, Pumpsie Green, Joe Gibbon, Ron Fairly, Andy Etchebarren, Jim Coates, Ernie Broglio, who’s still bitter over the Brock trade, and Billy Buckner, who had such a good year defensively he won the Glove With Wings award. How about that Johnny Mac? Jim Bouton chronicled the season for his new book, Nobody Up Here Likes Me.
As good as the ‘19s were, they still couldn’t overcome the ‘72s who win just about every year. They are the definition of quality and leadership. Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente would have it no other way. Pie Traynor, Dizzy Trout, Zack Wheat, Moe Berg and Gabby Hartnett are just some of that group who are ready for every season. And remember Moe, no leavened bread for you this week or you’ll be answering to an even higher authority. Gil Hodges is the ‘72s player-manager. That guy, like Jackie and Roberto, is all class, too.
So fellas, hope you are ready. Just to remind you of a couple of rule changes. There is no stealing up here. There is a special place where thieves go and it ain’t through these Gates. Also, you can bunt but no suicide squeeze plays. That’s double jeopardy. You can’t die twice.
First pitch on Thursday. Looks like you’ve got a great team, but you have to win when it counts. Like they say down south, have a hell of a season.”